In the eyes of the most professors and leaders, defending your opinion equals being defensive. I hated this about the educational system. Even if a professor was wrong, there was hardly a way to speak your mind without being perceived as a defensive and rude person.
That was before I learned how to handle my arguments and speak my mind without causing troubles for myself. Being in an argument with someone with more power, knowledge, and influence than yourself sucks, especially when this person is the judge of your future as an academic.
Luckily, there are ways to stop being defensive and still defend your opinion. I learned this the hard way, but I will gladly share it with those who cannot keep quiet about an injustice or a mistake, same as I could not.
Being such a defensive and righteous person, I always had this feeling that I had to prove myself to others. Their looks and behaviors when I spoke my mind made me feel like I am different. After a while, I was completely frustrated every time I needed to stand up for myself.
It was years after this when I enrolled in college that I understood the meaning of being defensive. Once I learned what it meant, I could finally master my defense mechanism. As Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud explained, the number of defense mechanisms is quite large (she listed nine common mechanisms).
A bit of advice: when you use defense mechanisms to defend an opinion, place these in conjunctions with your communication skills. Don’t let them coincide with the desire to protect yourself. Not everyone is your enemy or wants to harm you. In most cases, listening will help you determine the real reason behind someone else’s action and prevent you from jumping to the very, very wrong conclusion.
As soon as I learned this, I learned to be fine with the idea of sometimes being wrong when I think I am right. But, I also learned to carefully speak my mind when I truly believe I am in the right.
‘’I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it’’. – Voltaire
Table of Contents
Defend Your Opinion Comfortably with Style and Class
Below you can find my highly effective ways to communicate comfortably and without seeming defensive to others. The faster you master these, the sooner you will learn how to defend your opinion in front of anyone. And I mean anyone.
1. Be Certain in Yourself
The chances of you ending up hurt or defensive are much smaller when you are certain that you are, in fact, the person who is right. When you are sure of what you are communicating, there is nothing that can throw you off or make you doubt your beliefs.
Have you noticed how people feel more courageous when they know the outcome of a situation? Don’t go blindly into arguments. If you learn to avoid discussions on topics you don’t feel sure about, you cannot appear as defensive in the eyes of others.
2. Stop to Listen
When the argument seems to be going in the wrong direction, take a breath and stop to listen. Most people make an unpleasant expression when you cross the defensiveness line. Professors tend to frown at me when I start making empty arguments.
Being in an argument should never place you above the other person. If you start getting the feeling that you are being too forceful, try to listen more. You will soon find that there are many points in their speech that make sense, but you completely failed to hear them because you were too involved in your own speech.
You’ve surely noticed how, even in cases where you will end up being wrong, the sole idea of making a point makes you think that it is the other person who is wrong. This is the damage defensiveness makes to us. That’s why stopping to listen is the key to beating it to the punch.
3. Think Long-Term
Whenever you feel like anxiety is eating you inside, look at the big picture. Instead of appearing all-defensive and straightforward, think long-term. Setting a strategy is a safer and more effective way to reach your goals, and this won’t change just because you are feeling secure at the moment.
I found it hard to master any of the strategies discussed here until I learned to take my time. Strategizing does wonder if you cannot get the hang on defending your opinion the right way. With the right amount of concentration, you are much more likely to win a battle.
Before you say something or make any rushed decision, take a breath and pay close attention to everything. Not just the speech of the person you are talking to, but also the anticipated outcome and the direction in which the conversation is going. This will help you avoid many troubles along the way.
4. Speak with Using ‘’I’’
Why do you appear so defensive, you think? If you feel defensive, you will seem defensive.
Understand why you feel this way and you can better demonstrate your emotions. Using ‘’I’’ in your sentences will help you keep focused on such feelings and therefore prevent saying the wrong thing.
Instead of using the indirect approach to express yourself, go direct. This will show you what you are feeling and how it will be perceived, and you can always make changes in the process. Only in this way, it won’t be too late.
5. Accept That You Might Be Wrong
Not even the most intelligent person in the world can be right 100 percent of the time. So, even if you are this person, you must accept that in the end, your argument can turn out to be wrong.
We all love to be right, but making mistakes is in the essence of every human being. There will be times when you will realize that the other person is right and you are wrong. It is up to you whether you will accept and stand behind this fact. If you don’t, you will not only feel defensive but will annoy others, too.
People make mistakes and this is not forbidden. This is why you need to accept that you might be wrong, but also accept when others are wrong. If you accept this as a common occurrence, you won’t be as defensive as you were before.
I made many mistakes rushing into an argument I was certain was a win for me, when it turned out to be a win for the other person. Not realizing that others can make mistakes made me feel stronger about my own arguments, which of course, resulted in making me appear defensive. Especially when the person who was wrong was me.
6. Embrace Criticism
Not everyone will have mastered defending their opinions in the right way. So, more often than not, you will feel like the other person is being defensive during your argument.
At other times, you will simply receive criticism for something you have done. Being criticized sure doesn’t feel good, but the goal isn’t to make you feel good in the first place. It is to make you better.
People who criticize you all the time or without reason need to be approached in a defensive manner. But, as is the case with professors who simply want you to learn better, their criticism will mostly be for your benefit.
I always take this into consideration when I get a critic from my professors. If you take the time to listen to the criticism and try to understand it, you will rapidly know if this is productive or just harmful for you.
Detecting this will help you make the right move. If the criticism is something you can accept and improve, don’t be all defensive about it. Ask for more information and use it to your benefit.
7. Think Before Responding
As I said, people will go at the issue the wrong way. This is not their fault – they still don’t know how to prevent that defensive behavior. Since you have been where they stand, you don’t really have the right to respond with a harsh and snappy comeback. You sure didn’t like to get those, did you?
Always think before responding. When you take some minor time to calm down and put everything in perspective, you can respond in a way that is most productive for both sides. Be the good guy in the argument for once.
8. Take a Deep Breath
Deep breaths help solve many issues. This is why I started practicing yoga.
Whenever you feel threatened, don’t just go into a defensive mood. Your central nervous system will make you tense and overheat, preventing us from taking in new information. Slow and deep breathing is the best solution in this case.
What I’ve noticed is that in most of the cases when I was too defensive, I was feeling generally stressed that same day or week. Being cranky put me in the mood for being defensive, which often had a bad outcome.
Stress can make you out of control, on edge, and unable to use the right approach to respond to criticism. Deep breaths and other stress management routines should help smooth things out.
9. Get to Know Yourself
If everything and anything keeps pissing you off, the problem might lie inside you. Some inner reflection is in order.
When nothing else in my list works, it is time to work through your issues. Find the things that push your buttons and work on eliminating them. This is the most likely cause for your constant defensiveness.
It will probably take more work than you could anticipate, but the results will be a better you and completely worth it.
10. No One Has to Be a Winner
Stop taking everything so personally. It may feel like the world is out to get you, but there really isn’t a need to seek a winner in every situation. Whenever someone gets into a discussion or criticizes you, keep this in mind. People might have good intentions behind the words they are speaking to you and their goal might not be to win, after all.
People often feel like they have to be right for things to be right. We are built this way, but it doesn’t have to be the thing that leads you in life. Once you get rid of the idea that you have to win or lose, you will stop being defensive.
Of course, this will greatly improve your relationships with people too, and make your life that much better.
The secret behind solving conflict without finding a winner is to find common ground. There is hardly a person you have nothing in common with, and seeking that little connection is what will make everything right. If you agree on something, i.e. compromise, this collaboration will end up with two winners, not a winner and a loser.
It is a win-win situation, right?
Your Opinions are a Reflection of Who You are – Defend Them Elegantly!
Defending yourself is not a bad thing. It is actually essential to survive in the harsh world. In many cases, you will need to defend your opinions to stop others from pushing you around. And while in some cases this will be beneficial, in others it might be bad for you. This is why you have to learn how to communicate your opinion without that glitch of defensiveness.
I hope my experience and guidelines will help narrow down your path toward better communication. Don’t let people push you around, but also don’t let basic, stupid things get in the way of your success or relationships. Appearing defensive is easy, but being defensive without appearing as such is the actual trick.